Yesterday I went to a conference on inclusive church held at All Saints in Keighley – many thanks to Bob Callaghan, David Austin, Jonathan Pritchard, Elizabeth Millwain and others. So what do I now think about inclusive church?
My ideal model of church would be an Oceans 11 church. Oceans 11 is a crime thriller staring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. A bunch of misfits who would otherwise not have anything to do with each other find themselves all mutually dependent. They each have their own particular talents – a safe cracker, security specialist, structural engineer, electronics expert and a getaway driver. Danny Ocean wants to score the biggest heist in history. A shared mission.
I’m jesting of course, not suggesting church and criminality are necessarily linked but I do find some inspiration here. In Christ’s deepest hour of need his closest ally was the criminal with whom he was crucified – the criminal who was redeemed.
The organised and brazen Hatton Garden robbery was a crime which grabbed the attention of the world’s press for obvious reasons. The crooks hatch a technically demanding plan to break into a seemingly secure bank vault over the Easter holidays. The comparison with Oceans 11 is clear to see with the newspapers characterising the criminals as Mr Ginger, Mr Strong and so on. Whatever else you can say about it the story will be remembered.
The really great thing about the Church of England is that it is open to all sorts, and it should be easy to break into. On Sunday morning services across the land bring together people who otherwise may have little in common – social workers, city bankers, doctors, factory workers, children, retired people and maybe repentant bank robbers. Ideally we will set aside any prejudice or thought for power or status and celebrate our equality as children of God.
The aim of the Inclusive Church Conference was to think about the ways in which we can welcome people into the church and accept them for who they are (not what they are). What does making people feel accepted really mean in terms of our attitude and practical accommodation? How do we value what they bring? Disability, sexuality, mental health, ethnicity – all these and other considerations can make demands on the way we organise and conduct church. We were introduced to the concept of radical welcome which involved valuing the contribution and identity of people beyond simply being tolerant.
There is no question that including all people is at the heart of Christian theology. The rag bag of people Jesus associated with and embraced should inspire us to value all people and especially those whom we find challenging. To hold such a conference suggests there is work to be done, which of course there is.
The Church of England will do really well if it has a really strong sense of purpose and mission, if it values diversity of experience and rises to the challenge of working with the outsiders. The cost will be to embrace those who are difficulty to work with, a commitment to reconciliation and some serious risk taking.
Jesus didn’t break into a secure vault, he broke out of one – on Easter morning.